Papa John’s is getting cooked, as the N-word scandal suddenly appears to be just a small slice of a pathetic, profane and politically-incorrect pizza party. Forbes published a lengthy report titled, “The Inside Story of Papa John’s Toxic Culture,” alleging sexual harassment and bad-boy behavior are basic ingredients of the company.
Meanwhile, Advertising Age reported White advertising and media agencies—specifically, Publicis Groupe’s Fallon and IPG’s Initiative—are cutting ties with the client. The stories imply the shops are taking the high road and rejecting the apparently nasty former CEO John Schnatter and controversial company. If so, the scenario demonstrates the new hypocrisy in adland.
It’s unclear why Fallon was even working for Papa John’s, as the White advertising agency is already servicing Arby’s. How many fast feeders can one agency handle? Plus, reports of merger talks between Papa John’s and Wendy’s means Fallon would have faced more potential conflicts. And Publicis Groupe is not without controversy itself, plagued by publicized and private problems. Given the financial challenges facing the White holding company, it’s not exactly in a position to decline revenue, regardless of the source.
The decision to split by Initiative is really hypocritical, especially considering the news that another IPG firm—Powell Tate—is covering PR duties for Papa John’s. IPG owns some of the worst examples of sexual harassment and racism in recent years. So any company on the IPG roster is actually uniquely qualified to partner with Papa John’s. Hell, IPG is globally recognized for leadership in gender, racial and ethnic discrimination—the company’s conscious bias experience is unmatched.
In short, the shared cultural cluelessness between all parties creates a perfect union.